The Self-Awareness Spectrum Turning Vulnerability into Strength

The Self-Awareness Spectrum Turning Vulnerability into Strength

"‘Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

Self awareness has been described as the meta skill of the 21st century. Tasha Eurich wrote about this in her book ‘Insight,’ and offers a fascinating perspective into the power of self-awareness. It prompted me to write about the spectrum of self-awareness and how we can take a vulnerability in our business and turn it into a game changing strength.

Self-Awareness and why it matters

Last week I had the chance to listen to a panel of Private Equity fund managers discuss their approach to running and investing their funds. If you’re unfamiliar with Private Equity, think of it like this: I have a pool of money (hundreds of millions of dollars) that I need to invest into small or medium-sized businesses. My goal is to use this equity infusion to help these businesses grow in value so that when I exit as a partner, we do so for a business worth much more than it was when I invested. My ‘fund’ represents the 8-15 businesses I will invest equity into from the pool of money I have to work with.

One of the best takeaways I had from the panel discussion came from what a manager said about good ownership vs a good business. Specifically, he said, ‘I’ll take good ownership over a good business.’ When pressed further he elaborated and said, there’s plenty of good businesses with bad ownership and for us, I’d rather have a bad business with good ownership than a good business with bad ownership.

The takeaway being that the quality of ownership is of much higher importance to a business’s valuation today and in the future than the quality of the business itself! It drives home just how important it is for an owner to invest consistently into themselves and not just into their business. One of the best investments into ourselves is into a greater understanding of our own self-awareness making one of the most meaningful skills an owner can have into a strength.

What is self-awareness? Self-awareness needs to be broken down into two dimensions: internal and external.

Internal self-awareness is an understanding of my own behaviors, reactions, and responses. It’s what most of us think about when we think about self-awareness.

External self-awareness is an understanding of how others perceive me. External self-awareness is less well known but an equally critical element of self-awareness for a business owner today.

It’s considered a meta skill because it deeply influences a MASSIVE array of business abilities from decision-making to leadership to relationships with employees, customers, constituents, and stakeholders. While we could work on any of these individual skills directly, by investing our time and working on our self-awareness we can work on a skill that underlies all of these other skills, thus leveling up our development exponentially and gaining some real productivity by doing so.

As a business owner, self-awareness plays an even greater role when we consider that self-awareness is crucial to understanding our own strengths and weaknesses allowing us to navigate challenging situations adeptly. It plays an integral role in our strategic decision making and it strengthens and empowers the entire organization starting from the leadership team all the way down to the least seasoned employee.

When taken together, I’m not sure there are many skills as important as self-awareness for a business owner to develop.

Poor self-awareness is a vulnerability

One of the great ironies in the world today is that for most of us, we often consider our greatest weaknesses our greatest strengths. In short, we all think we rock at self-awareness. Unfortunately, study after study proves this to be the exact opposite! 85% of us believe that we are self-aware, yet conversely, only 10-15% of us are.

Why is it that so many of us think we’re self aware when we aren’t? It’s because it’s very difficult to know ourselves! Funny enough if you thought the answer were simply to be introspective, guess what? Those that spend more time on introspection tend to be even less self-aware than others. This is largely in part due to the fact that we have never been taught how to properly be introspective and we end up using confirmation bias to end up with the wrong conclusions steering us even further off track than if we had never put the time and energy into trying to become more self-aware.

Poor self-awareness shows up as a vulnerability in businesses in many obvious ways and some less obvious ways as well. One of the more obvious ways it may influence us is through overconfidence or via self doubt. We have all met someone that is confident when they should not be. To be clear, I’m not discussing self-efficacy (the belief that I have capacity to do something), I’m discussing confidence (the belief that I can do something). Imagine being confident at playing tennis at a high level having never picked up a racket, yet some people really do believe they can compete with professionals or even amateurs with thousands of hours of practice racked up. An owner with overconfidence will jump into action without properly weighing their true ability to accomplish what they have set out to do.

Likewise we have all met someone who expresses self doubt and deals with imposter syndrome even when they have proven to be more than capable and effective at the work that they do. People struggling with this may have symptoms they struggle with like overthinking and paralysis by analysis. In both instances, whether it’s overconfidence or self doubt, we can point the finger at poor internal self-awareness as a common culprit.

Self-awareness can also be a vulnerability less obviously. Blindspots are common and often derive from poor self-awareness. One blindspot many people and owners have is misunderstanding how they come off to other people. An owner stretched for time, for example, may come off as abrasive, brash and unempathetic. It doesn’t matter if they are the most empathetic person in the world, if people perceive them to be unempathetic, from that person’s perspective, they are! In this case we are dealing with external self-awareness issues. An owner isn’t aware of how someone else is perceiving them to be and so they may behave in a way that damages or undermines an important relationship with a key employee or client.

There are many other ways that self-awareness can show up as a vulnerability in business. Unfortunately we are just scratching the surface with two common examples. An owner dealing with poor self-awareness is setting themselves up for a consistent and cyclical battle with issues like these that will remain in place until they are correctly identified, which may never happen! Ultimately it can impair and impede growth, limit a businesses opportunities and even, from the perspective of private equity, take a good business and make it uninvestable due to poor ownership.

Self-Awareness as a Strength

If I were to tell you there was a skill that it was so uncommon to be good at that only 10-15% of the population was and yet it strongly influenced nearly every element of running a business today you’d probably want to know exactly what it was and exactly how to address it. We now know it’s self-awareness and it’s difficult to address if we believe we’re great at it already.

Assuming you are willing to admit you might not be all you cracked yourself up to be around self-awareness there are ways to strengthen our self-awareness and turn a potential fail-point in our business into a strength.

Ways to strengthen our self-awareness

Owner Advisory Boards:

One of the best methods for developing self-awareness is surrounding yourself with people that know you well, but aren’t direct family members or partners. Ideally you want a group of people that can provide you honest feedback that aren’t biased to or against you from being too intimately close. This means partners, spouses and family are not likely the best choices for this role. Ideally you’d find a group, like IVOLVE + THRIVE to help structure true peers around you that understand the types of challenges and opportunities facing you as an owner but can also help you receive honest and transparent feedback with limited bias and no conflict of interest. This feedback will help you become more self-aware over time as people within this group become more comfortable identifying and communicating blindspots, assumptions and decision making context.

Professional Development

Consider hiring someone that can hold you accountable to your behaviors and responses. Individual coaches can provide insight into behavioral defaults. A good coach that understands behavioral science and is capable of holding you positively accountable for your decisions will help you recognize when you are falling into patterns of reactions and default responses. This in turn will help you improve your decision making. If you haven’t considered a coach before you may want to take a close look at it. The ICF noted that individuals typically see nearly an $8 return on every $1 invested into coaching.

Self Reflection

Although most of us are not trained to be introspective, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to be more self-aware. A great starting point is with journaling or meditation. Both offer vehicles that help us review our behavior and hopefully reinforce better behaviors. Meditation, in particular, is one of my favorite methods to reduce reaction and impulse responses to emotional triggers.

Final Thoughts

By addressing self-awareness head on, first by admitting that we likely aren’t great at it and then by deliberating working towards improving both our internal and external self-awareness we can take business vulnerabilities and turn them into strengths. Imagine the competitive advantage we can achieve in the marketplace today by making small improvements to our self-awareness. Self-awareness can become not a vulnerability but the secret weapon that truly allows us to experience a transformative shift in the level of success we see from our business.

Ultimately, most of us will be neither terrible nor terrific when it comes to self-awareness. It’s rare for people to naturally have a high level of self-awareness. Most of us will fall somewhere in between the spectrum of bad to great. Our goal as business owners should be to prioritize investing into the skills that will have the greatest impact on our overall success and output. As a metaskill, self-awareness development allows us to accomplish just this and improve decision making, enhance relationships and better navigate a constantly changing market environment.

If you’re concerned about your self-awareness or find it’s a skill that you’d like to intentionally improve we strongly encourage you to contact us about our Owner Advisory Boards, 2:1 coaching or soft-skill development workshops.

Until next month!



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